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EU court clarifies rules in Estonian Listeria case

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An EU court has provided an interpretation of the rules in a complex domestic case in Estonia involving Listeria and fish.

The European Court of Justice has concluded that the zero tolerance limit on Listeria cannot be applied to foods that have left the producer’s control and are already on the market.

MV Wool and the Food Agency in Estonia are involved in domestic proceedings before the Administrative Court in Tallinn, which are ongoing.

The request for EU aid was made in the case between MV Wool, a manufacturer of fish products, and the Estonian Food and Agriculture Board (PTA) concerning two decisions taken by the authority following the detection of Listeria monocytogenes in foods placed on the market by the company.

In August 2019, Estonian authorities took samples from a retail store of certain salmon and trout products produced by MV Wool. After the detection of Listeria monocytogenes, the Estonian authorities ordered the company to suspend the manufacture of the products, to recall the entire batch and to inform consumers.

In October, after finding Listeria monocytogenes in some of its products, MV Wool disinfected two working factories. However, Listeria continued to be detected in some products from these sites. In November, Estonian authorities ordered MV Wool to suspend operations at the sites until it had proof that the contamination had been removed.

Interpret the rules
MV Wool sued in the Administrative Court of Tallinn to overturn the decisions, claiming that the Estonian authority was not entitled to apply the limit requiring the absence of Listeria monocytogenes in 25 grams to samples taken commercially Retail.

The company believes the limit does not apply to items already on the market. For these products, the limit is 100 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) during shelf life. Listeria monocytogenes above these levels had never been found in the company’s products, according to MV Wool.

The Estonian authority said that since the company has not proven that its products will not exceed 100 CFU/g of Listeria monocytogenes throughout their shelf life, the zero tolerance limit applies. , whether they are under the control of the manufacturer or have already been sent to market.

Cold-smoked trout and salmon produced in Estonia by Mr V Wool were linked to an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes which affected 22 people in five countries from 2014 to 2019. Five people died.

The Tallinn Administrative Court has asked the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the correct interpretation, as it would affect the legality of the authority’s decisions in August and November regarding the company’s operations.

The first limit of 100 CFU/g applies to products placed on the market during their shelf life, when the manufacturer is able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the competent authority that it will not exceed this level.

The zero tolerance part applies before the food has left the food company’s control and when this operator is unable to show the authority that the product will not exceed 100 CFU/g throughout the the duration of the conversation.

The rules do not cover a situation where a product is already on the market and the manufacturer is unable to demonstrate that it will not exceed 100 CFU/g during shelf life.

The EU court ruled that where the company is unable to convince the authority that, throughout the shelf life, the food will not exceed the 100 CFU/g limit for Listeria monocytogenes, the zero tolerance limit will not apply to items that have been placed on the market throughout their shelf life.

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